Washington Motel Americana

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Motels of Highway 99

This small photo essay has been a long-time dream of mine, but I've never really had the time to actually persue it until now.

I've always been intrigued by the old hotel signs made so famous by Route 66. These signs cropped up en masse during that period of American history when everyone was enamored with their automobiles and road trips. Some where along these routes the first dad threatened to "Turn this car around" on his raucous kids.


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While not as famous as their Route 66 counterparts, these old motel signs still stand along Washington State Highway 99. This highway bears many names along the length I explored: Aurora Avenue, Pacific Highway, International Boulevard, Evergreen Way and even the Alaska Way Viaduct. But underneath those names its still Highway 99.

Had I waited even another month to create this photo essay of americana, I fear that some of these signs would not remain. Two of the motels I found were preparing for demolition, others had converted to apartments. Their signs were in a perpetual state of disrepair. Holes, rust and broken neon tubes. Bulbs blinking only intermittently, ignored by distrated drivers and their cell phones. Who takes a road trip with their family and makes the Thunderbird their destination? Why would they when the Hampton Court has better location and a free breakfast buffet? America may still be car crazy, but their fascination with kitschy motels with free HBO and "COLOR TV!" is gone.

So I present to you a little flash back into the days when cars were longer, heaver and had literally hundreds of pounds of chrome. Gas prices were in a range where you could buy a gallon with money that jingles rather than folds.

Some of the photos below have received quite a bit of post processing. Almost all were tone-mapped with 2 photos taken with different exposures and massaged with a digital filter to emulate an old, cheap film camera. By the time you're reading this, I would say that at least of 3 of these signs are gone for good.

- Liem Bahneman, April 19, 2007

Addendum: April 21, 2007:

I've added a number of motels along Highway 7, which is more commonly referred to as Pacific Avenue through Tacoma and Spanaway, which is another huge motorway very similar to Highway 99. I've also added a few nostalgic signs from taverns and restaurants from around the same era.

New: July 16, 2007:

Motels from the Southwestern part of the state. Centralia, as it turns out, has an amazing cache of vintage neon in superb condition along Tower Avenue. New: July 28, 2007:

I was in the southwest part of the state, including Vancouver which had one motel, the Value Motel, which had an unbelievable 5 different signs. Unfortunately, the old motel was closed. I also learned that this particular section of highway was also called Highway 99. Two signs that I had intended to photograph, Kane's Motel in Bellevue and the Holly Motel in Puyallup were already gone. Kane's Motel's sign was intact, but modified for the businesses that occupy the space. I missed them only by a year or so?

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